COP27, Day 7: Agriculture. What does global action for change look like?

Image Credit: Tom Fisk on Pexels

As a dairy farmer I interviewed recently remarked, “There’s no such thing as cheap food. Someone’s always paying the real price – sometimes it’s the farmer, the retailer, the processor, sometimes it’s the consumer, but very often it’s the environment”.  

Two weeks ago, discussing the implications of nature positive food production, I was floored by a colleague’s insight that rice paddies do not in fact need to be flooded to produce rice – it is in fact a means of keeping weeds and pests at bay. The alternative is drip irrigation, costly but found to drive significant productivity outcomes. As a result of avoiding flood irrigation, we dramatically reduce methane production and water use, increasingly relevant in today’s irregular climate. Fantastic. Incredible. Let’s convert the 165m hectares globally for rice paddies into drip irrigation and reduce the nature footprint dramatically.  

Fast forward two weeks and I’m on a working holiday in Indonesia (thanks Edge for your wonderfully supportive flexible work policy), walking through plot after plot of flooded rice paddies. Closing the gap between best environmental practice and best-practice-for-my-circumstances appears to be the challenge, without even broaching the education and CapEx associated with changing practices.  

In a week’s time, COP27’s attention will be solely focused on Agriculture for Day 7. This discussion taking place on the African continent, one of the least efficient food production zones globally, is pertinent. There’ll be global experts discussing production efficiencies and setting targets and getting excited about driving change, but I ask – who is implementing the change? Who is responsible for closing the gap between goals and action, targets and tangible outcomes? Technology is increasingly heralded as the panacea, but who is paying for it and who is in the rice fields of developing nations teaching farmers how to use it? Who is working with graziers in the savanna rangelands of Africa to use artificial insemination to increase the productivity of their herd? 

The answer I’m somewhat comfortable with is that global corporations are stepping up to the plate, armed with certifications and educational toolboxes. They’re using their scale to influence on the ground, setting minimum standards for compliance in the hope this will have a net positive effect on uptake, through normalisation and/or reduced buy-in costs. This action too, comes at a cost. The Unilevers, MARS, Danones and Nestlés of the world have committed huge amounts to restoring their production systems, which is commendable.  

Uncle Bens (MARS) is the biggest purchaser of rice in the world. In a few short years, they’ve signed 99% of their farmers up to a sustainable rice platform. This will have ripple effects through the supply chain and increase transparency, I have no doubt. It is expected they will be rewarded, with supply chains more resilient to a changing climate and political stressors. But there is a limit to their coiffeurs, and a time will come when the cost must be realised.  

I await the commentary from COP27, and hope the presence of farmers in the room results in realistic takeaways that start to close these gaps – what does this look like on the ground? Who is going to pay for it? Who is responsible for making it happen, checking it’s happened? Are consumers aware they’re not paying the true cost of food? 

Otherwise, for all the science and progress in the world, we’ll only continue to widen the gap between knowledge and action.

This article was written by Sarah Day, Senior Consultant at Edge Environment. Sarah works within our ESG & Sustainability Strategy team and has strong experience in the agricultural space.

Share This:

Edge Environment Pty Ltd © 2022 | All Rights Reserved

To top